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Published: Wednesday, 6/13/2007

TPS' graduation rates a matter of dispute

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Public Schools' high school graduation rate in 2004 was just 37 percent or it was 70.4 percent - depending on whom you ask.

A report called "Diplomas Count: Ready for What? Preparing for College, Careers, and Life After High School," released yesterday by Education Week magazine, compiled the 2003-04 graduation rates for every state and also showed detailed comparisons of every school district in the nation.

The report showed the lower graduation rate for TPS while the school system itself reported the higher number, using the state of Ohio's approved calculations.

The report said Ohio's 2003-04 statewide graduation rate was 74.7 percent, while the Ohio Department of Education listed that year's graduation rate at 84.3 percent.

The discrepancies are likely due to differences in how the graduation rates are calculated.

Ohio Department of Education officials yesterday disputed the research and its conclusions.

"We stand behind our calculation method," said Karla Carruthers, spokesman for the Ohio Depart-ment of Education. "Our formula is consistent with National Center for Educational Statistics recommendations for calculating graduation rates that most states use."

She said Education Week's methods don't account for student mobility.

"For example, if a student leaves a district and transfers to another public school or to a parochial school and goes onto graduate, our formula accounts for that," Ms. Carruthers said.

She said the state would be using "the unique statewide student identifier," beginning next year, to calculate graduation rates, which will provide "an even more accurate rate."

Toledo Public Schools Superintendent John Foley said Education Week uses a "very simplistic calculation whereas the state allows for movement, and that is in keeping with the mobility rates" of an urban district like Toledo Public.

"When a student starts as a freshman and doesn't finish four years later, you can count him as a dropout, but that doesn't mean he didn't graduate from somewhere else," Mr. Foley said.

Christopher Swanson, one of the report's authors, said Ohio is among 32 states that use a method called the "Leaver rate" to calculate graduation rates.

That method leads many states to report "inflated" data, said Mr. Swanson, who is director of the research center at Editorial Projects in Education, the Bethesda, Md.-based nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week.

The report's authors acknowledged yesterday in a conference call with reporters that the transfer of students out of an urban school system in favor of charter schools could lower the graduation rate under their method.

Hundreds of Toledo Public Schools high school students attended charter schools this school year, and the number has increased the last several years.

The national graduation rate is 70 percent, according to the report. Utah had the highest graduation rate with 84 percent; South Carolina had the lowest with 54 percent.

Among the 50 largest U.S. school districts, Detroit had the lowest graduation rate - 24.9 percent.

It was followed by Cleveland, which had a 34.1 percent graduation rate, according to the magazine.

However, the Ohio Department of Education says Cleveland's graduation rate for the same period was 40.8 percent.

The overall gradation rate in Michigan was 69 percent, according to the report's calculation.

The report found that an estimated 1.23 million students nationally - or about 30 percent of the class of 2007 - will fail to graduate with their peers. Native American, Hispanic, and black students tend to have the lowest gradation rates, the magazine said.

The Education Week report also included an analysis showing that higher education is absolutely related to salary.

"If you don't have a high school diploma, then you are going to be relegated to the worst jobs in the economy," Mr. Swanson said.

The complete report can be viewed at www.educationweek.org.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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